India gets by so much, not flawlessly but we do. Sometimes the excuse is population, sometimes economy, or religion.
It is not a pandemic issue, it is not an unprecedented issue, but it is a glaring one. In college, at the precipice of economic responsibility/ anxiety, it is more apparent to me than it was in school.
When I think about how the school system needs reform, I conveniently ignore the fact that most government schools don’t even have what I do. I don’t need to quote statistics to make my point (like how I was told to do for my English board exam to fetch better marks in article writing).
In our education system, there is a format for everything, and by everything, I mean grades. Grades determine whether or not you’ll get into a college and course of your choice.
Having said that, I still don’t despise board exams. Intellectually, they are not stimulating, and students are told to tone down their opinions, ideas and vocabulary, to write in a safe format to fetch better grades. So they teach you to work smartly and efficiently, to be disciplined and manage pressure. But are they worth it in their current ‘format’?
A phrase commonly heard in middle and upper-middle-class students is: “Getting into an average college abroad is still better than an above-average college here, unless of course, it is IIT, AIMS, IIM, NLU, etc.”.
In lower-middle-class and poor families you won’t hear this phrase. The lottery of birth was unkind to them, and given the social mobility of our country, they’ll be stuck in that socio-economic sphere for a calculably long time. In that sphere of existence, studying abroad is not even an option. Going abroad for a blue-collar job on the pretext of a diploma – yes, but for education – no. Even studying within India is a guarded aspiration.
The students from non-taxable income households, in order to improve their socio-economic status, will have to crack national-level competitive exams and get into the top schools and secure the best grades to land a high paying private job, or crack government exams, the forms/results/offer letters that appear like the Loch Ness monster, on their own discretion.
They’ll have to crack these uber-competitive exams without the resources that the students from taxable income households have, such as expensive coaching, study material, internet, other social exposures, etc.
During the first lockdown, we saw suicide rates jump up due to economic pressures. How does that reflect on the families that are left behind with fatal loss, daily expenses and compounding interest?
I personally know students who after the loss of an earning member of their family had to switch from a college that would provide placements to less expensive colleges that don’t even offer decent education, let alone placements. There are students who have to pass off opportunities to study in a good college because student loan is not a viable option for their family and future.
I write about the vicious cycle above the poverty line. I dare not write about what I don’t know, but I am sure it is harder for the ones who don’t have schools, to begin with, which my privilege would have hidden from me for a while longer had it not been for this pandemic.
My average grades and failed attempts at various competitive exams have made me resilient, but is it an employable skill with my humble college degree?
With so much already spent on my education, will my family get any Return on Investment? Is it a question of my competence or is there really a gap between the education and economic system?
The action and reaction that is money and opportunity not only maintain but also widens the gap between the two Indias we get to read about during republic and Independence Day and sometimes during budget announcements. The two Indias have different qualities of education and hence job opportunities.
Do I leave this open-ended, the way I prefer, or state the obvious demand for increased focus and budget for education institutions at all levels, like how my teachers taught me to do in my board exams?
The author is a student of Mata Sundri College for Women, Delhi University. Views are personal.